THE Scottish Government launched the new NHS Pharmacy First Scotland service this summer, replacing the minor ailment service and marking the single biggest change to community pharmacy practice in recent times.

The launch came as Scotland carves its own way through one of the most significant health crises the nation has faced in living memory.

Never has there been a greater test of the resilience and dedication of our tireless community pharmacy teams – one which they passed with flying colours.

But I may be biased, you may say? Maybe so, but I’m also concerned that Scotland’s community pharmacy network – one of the strongest in Europe – must be given the resource and autonomy it deserves, something I hope Pharmacy First has the potential to achieve.

The service will shine a light on community pharmacists – centre stage – as the first port of call to advise all members of the public on the management of self-limiting illnesses and stable long-term conditions.

To mark the launch, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Community Pharmacy Scotland unveiled a report which stated that community pharmacy teams across Scotland give advice-only consultations 84,000 times a week. That equates to a remarkable 1.67 times every hour. At no cost to the patient and with no appointment necessary.

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Is there any clearer demonstration of the largely unrecognised role that community pharmacists have daily which reaches far beyond the supply of medicines and prescriptions?

Community pharmacists demonstrated incredible resilience and fortitude from the front line of the Covid crisis, ensuring that as many people with minor medical needs and long-term conditions were kept safe at home.

At Lindsay & Gilmour, our online prescription management service and free home delivery service are both in demand exponentially. This, in turn, played a vital role in protecting hospital beds and secondary care resources available for those who were directly affected by Covid-19.

As we move tentatively through the autumn months under the shadow of a second wave of this virus darkening our doorsteps, I am more confident than ever that my colleagues across the community pharmacy network will once again step up to the mark should the need arise and continue to selflessly protect the health of our communities from this threat.

Their contribution to the National Health Service has three equal and essential components: advice on your symptoms; referral to other services; and treatment if recommended.

Or, as it has been eloquently summarised by the CPS report, The ART of community pharmacy.

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The number of referrals reported from each site was also consistently low, suggesting that community pharmacy is able to manage and appropriately provide care for those accessing its services and evidencing itself as the appropriate first point of call in most cases.

Time alone will tell how Pharmacy First Scotland is received by the public and pharmacy teams over coming months but I’m confident that this emphasis on patient interaction and autonomous decision making will increase the appeal of community pharmacy to those considering the profession.

They are, after all, our future.

Philip Galt is MD and superintendent pharmacist of Lindsay & Gilmour Pharmacy, which operates pharmacies across Central Scotland, Fife and the Scottish Borders